HC Deb 01 March 1967 vol 742 cc420-60

10.14 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)

I beg to move, That the Sugar Beet (Research and Education) (Increase of Contributions) Order 1967, a draft of which was laid before this House on 17th January, be approved. The purpose of the Order is to provide for the increased income needed to finance the programme of research and education which the sugar beet industry, that is, the growers of beet and the British Sugar Corporation, has in view. Under Section 18(1) of the Sugar Act, 1956, my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Scotland make an order each year approving a programme of expenditure on research and education concerning the production of home-grown sugar beet. Under the Act they must consult the industry.

For this purpose there was set up some years ago a standing Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee whose members include representatives of the National Farmers' Unions of England and Wales and of Scotland, representatives of the Corporation, and agricultural scientists and independent members.

The income for the programme is raised under the authority of Section 18(3) of the 1956 Act by contributions from the industry—from the growers and from the Corporation. They are paid into a Sugar Beet Research and Education Fund under the charge of the Minister. That method of financing the research and education programme is long standing. It was introduced as part of the regulation of the sugar industry brought in by the Sugar Industry (Re-organisation) Act, 1936. I think that it is generally accepted that it has worked well.

The 1956 Act specified that the maximum contribution should be 3d. per ton each from the growers and the Corporation for each ton of home-grown beet delivered to the Corporation. But, like agricultural research generally, research and education in sugar beet growing have steadily expanded, and the industry now finds that the proceeds of the 3d. levy are proving insufficient to finance the programme.

The estimated cost of the programme in 1967–68 is £166,000, while on an average crop the income with a 3d. levy is £142,000. The alternative to asking Parliament to approve an increase in the maximum contribution would be to reduce the scale of research. That is not the course desired by the industry.

The 1956 Act provides that the maximum contribution may be raised by an order of the Ministers approved by affirmative Resolution, and that is the course now proposed to the House.

The specific proposal embodied in the Order is that the maximum of the con- tribution should be raised by 1d. to 4d. per ton from the grower and 4d. per ton from the Corporation, for a period of three years. The Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee has carefully considered the plans for sugar beet research in the next few years. It has looked closely at proposals for additional expenditure and has in view some expansion of research, although no major developments are proposed for the present.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

I was trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the shortfall last year, when he said that there was expenditure of £166,000 and income of £142,000. That is a very abrupt change from the previous year, when there was an excess of £41,000. Has that excess all been wiped out?

Mr. Hoy

I am saying that the budget for the coming year is £166,000 and that the present levy of 3d. per ton would have produced £142,000, which would have left a short-fall.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Will the Minister find out whether all the money was used?

Mr. Hoy

I was not giving a balance-sheet; I was giving proposals for the future. I shall find out if the £41,000, which the hon. Gentleman says was a balance, was used. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There is no difference about this. If hon. Members will look closely at the proposals for additional expenditure, they will see that there has been an expansion of research but that no major new development is proposed for the present.

My right hon. Friends are satisfied that the programme the Committee has in view is reasonable and that, to meet the cost, it is not necessary to increase this sum by more than 1d. per ton. They do not feel that it would be wise even at this stage to look further ahead than three years. The increase will not affect the price of sugar.

I should like now to tell the House a little about the research which is supported by the sugar beet contributions. I feel sure that it is good value for money. The part which research and technical advice has played and can play in increasing agricultural productivity is well known. Agriculture today has nothing to fear in this respect from comparison with other industries. New varieties of cereals, pest and weed control, advances in animal genetics, health and nutrition, mechanisation—all bear witness to the work of the agricultural scientist, and the success in applying the new knowledge bears witness to the progressive outlook of our farmers. Research on the sugar beet crop, whose importance I need not underline, has kept pace.

It has been thought best—and I hope the House will agree—that the money contributed to the Sugar Beet Research and Education Fund should be used to support investigations at established research institutions and universities at Rothamsted, the Plant Breeding Institute, the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Sprowston, Nottingham, and so on. There is, therefore, no danger of sugar beet research being done in isolation from the main fields of agricultural research.

I will not go into details of the many lines of investigation that are pursued, or the success that has attended them, but I can claim with confidence that really solid results come from research into such matters as seedbeds, optimum nutrient requirements new varieties, control of virus yellows, precision drilling, and use of herbicides.

Effective research and rising standards of farming together tell a good story. To give but one example, in the period 1941–45, the average root yield per acre was 9.2 tons. It had risen by 1961–65 to a figure of no less than 14 tons. The House will agree that this is good progress and that the sugar beet industry and the scientists associated with it deserve to be congratulated.

I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Greenwell for their advice and help in this field. I therefore ask the House to approve this Order, in order to ensure the continuance and development of this highly desirable research programme sponsored by the sugar beet industry.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

I am sorry that spring seems largely to have faded from the Government benches. I was hoping that it was a delicate tribute to horticulture as well as to the Principality. I hope that the daffodils were grown in Wales and not in the Prime Minister's holiday garden.

I think that this is the first agricultural Order we have taken in the morning and I am very glad that we have avoided a Monday morning. But even a Wednesday morning has its inconveniences. I am in a personal difficulty because I should be upstairs with the Standing Committee on the Slaughter of Poultry Bill and some of my hon. Friends feel strongly against the taking of any business, but particularly agricultural business, in the mornings, because it may involve them cancelling a lot of arrangements so as to be able to cover what may be short points but which may affect many rural constituencies.

We accept, of course, the need for the Order. The hon. Gentleman has made out a case for an increase, although it is one of 33⅓ per cent. and I cannot help making the comment that such an increase in the levy is something that might well be referred to the Prices and Incomes Board. In 1955, when we fixed the maximum of 3d. a ton, it seemed to quite substantial maximum but the fact is that inflation has meant that it has cost more each year to maintain the same effort in research, quite apart from the desire and the need to extend the scope of research and education.

There has been a sharp rise over the last three years in the cost of the programme—about 30 per cent. Against the proposed programme for 1967–68 of £165,000, the last published accounts for education and research, covering 1964–65, show a programme which actually cost about £116,000, leaving a balance of income over expenditure of £41,000, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) has drawn attention.

In these accounts, the total balance carried forward into the following year was £62,000 and, therefore, I am wondering how much of that balance, if any, will be left after the completion of the current programme, 1966–67, which comes to an end on 31st March, and will be available towards the cost of next year's programme. Does it mean that the levy will not necessarily have to be at the 4d. maximum forthwith? As I said, during the 12 years since the Act was passed, when my interest started, the industry and farmers have had good value from the activities of the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee. I, too, pay my tribute to the chairmanship of Sir Peter Greenwell, who is a most progressive farmer in Suffolk. His Committee is most expert and powerful and, very important, it represents all the interests and institutions concerned.

Indeed, it has a strong eastern, and especially East Anglian, flavour. As I am a Norfolk Member, perhaps the House will forgive me if I single out and pay tribute to the work done in cultivation and crop husbandry by the Norfolk Agriculture Station at Sprowston. We in Norfolk are glad not only to have our Lord Lieutenant, Sir Edmund Bacon, as Chairman of the British Sugar Corporation, but are delighted to see, as is the Corporation, that he has recently been appointed Chairman of the Economic Development Council for the Agricultural Industry.

Sugar beet is one of the agricultural success stories in which I both take and declare an interest. Arable farmers value it very much for its key part in the rotation as a cleaning crop which is also a cash crop, with important by-products, the use of which research and education have greatly developed. Leafy beet tops and dried pulp are valuable animal foods and lime sludge for soil fertility is a use of the waste products of the factory. It was originally not a very economic crop for sugar production, but, by taking advantage of the results of research, the British industry has kept the cost of home-produced sugar from beet very closely in line with that of the cane sugar which we receive under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement.

The Parliamentary Secretary has referred to the striking increase in yields. I was considering the changes since the Sugar Bill and the duration of the 3d. limit and I made the difference from an average yield in the five-year period 1953–1955 of between 11 and 12 tons an acre to an average of 14 to 15 tons an acre in 1961–65, taking a broad bracket, with sugar per acre up from 37 to 38 cwt. in the five-year period 1953–1955 to about 45 cwt. an acre currently.

A most remarkable fact, and to farmers a painful fact, is that in all this period there has been little change in the guaranteed price.

Mr. Speaker

We are discussing an Order which increases the levy for research from 3d. to 4d. The hon. Member must link his remarks to that.

Mr. Hill

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I am endeavouring to show what fruitful results have flowed from the purpose of this levy and why I want it to be encouraged and strengthened.

The Committee has a considerable job to do because, although these improvements have been made, circumstances are making it harder for farmers to stay in sugar beet production, and in the last ten years the number of growers, and, therefore, contributors to the levy, has gone down from 40,000 to 26,000, so that one in three have gone out of sugar beet production. The reason is that it is a very exacting crop to grow and very extravagant in its demands for labour. Therefore, anything which the Committee can do to help farmers to save labour and improve yields and get a better return at this tight price is extraordinarily important.

The more intense production becomes, the greater the need for disease and pest control and this is a very important part of the Committee's future work. Research in this respect has often had a decisive effect, but it is a matter of constant warfare against known or new enemies. In 1957, the plague of virus yellows cost us 1 million tons of beet, but again intense research, in which Rothamsted played a considerable part, into the transmission of disease by aphids has evolved in a very short time a spray warning system to alert farmers when insect attack is building up and enabled them to use the successful pesticides which themselves are the result of research encouraged by the Committee.

This battle against disease is never-ending. If we think that we have got control of the virus yellows, we are now faced in Norfolk with a new and rather mysterious disease which first appeared at Docking and which, at the moment, is known as the "Docking disease". Its exact cause is unknown and I would like to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary is satisfied that everything is being done within the resources of the Committee and of the Ministry to combat this threat.

Central in the research programmes is the selection and breeding of better seeds with all sorts of desired characteristics some of which the Parliamentary Secretary has mentioned—a better yield, easier to drill, higher sugar content, purer juice —which may not be a characteristic of which the farmer necessarily thinks—and the desirability that new strains of seed themselves should be disease-resistant or disease-tolerant in the case of virus yellows. The most important seed breakthrough has been to evolve a genetic monogerm seed.

This is an interesting development. The natural sugar beet seed gives many seedlings per seed. The genetic monogerm seed is designed to give a single seedling at each point instead of a cluster and it therefore avoids the extremely costly task of having to reduce the plants to one by expensive hand labour.

Twelve years ago, or even less, this was only a hope, but this year, for the first time, two varieties of genetic mono-germ seeds appear on the approved list and a substantial acreage will be grown, although even in this respect there are many difficulties still to be overcome. Here I should like to pay tribute to the National Institute of Agricultural Botany and the Plant Breeding Institute at Cambridge, and to the commercial seed industry whose efforts have evolved and multiplied this type of seed. Much effort and money have also been spent evolving other varieties which have been rejected in practice. In view of the high cost of plant breeding there seems to be a case for ensuring that there is no wasteful duplication of effort in this aspect of research, or the prolongation of unfruitful lines merely for the sake of continuity.

Without a satisfactory monogerm seed, we could not achieve our objective of total mechanisation without a drop in yield. The harvesting of sugar beet is almost wholly mechanised as to 95 per cent. of the crop, subject to the difficulties of weather. For some years, the peak labour demand has come in the spring and it is at this point that the breakthrough is urgently needed by successful research. It is urgently needed before more growers are forced to give up because of lack of labour. After all, the labour force available for dealing with this crop is declining faster than the projected decline in the National Plan. It is about the only item in the National Plan which is ahead of schedule.

Mr. Webster

And the Civil Service.

Mr. Hill

It is, therefore, essential to obtain a high proportion of single plants per acre by mechanical sowing with precision drilling and correct spacing. The Committee is following two lines of development, "drilling to a stand" or mechanical thinning out. I do not want to go further into the technicalities and nor would you wish me to, Mr. Speaker, but it means that in addition to the research which the Committee is doing on soil cultivation, fertilisers and herbicides, a great deal of machinery, which has to be precise and sophisticated and yet robust, is required. When I say that the latest developments include the use of electronics, it will be seen that the specialist machinery required for drilling, hoeing and gapping, and spraying with herbicides in the spring to eliminate weeds can be almost as expensive as a self-propelled sugar beet harvester. If the machinery gets too expensive, then any saving of labour is cancelled out by overheads being too high.

This emphasises not only the value of the current research into machinery, but the value of a wider development of machinery syndicates. The problem of requiring very expensive machinery for spring cultivation is an example of the very unsatisfactory position, upon which I will only touch, of the Government's revised investment allowances for agricultural machinery.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not even touch upon that.

Mr. Hill

I will leave it as a dark thought. I hope that the current developments in the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering, which is represented on the Education Committee, will produce a break-through. As I have said, time is not on our side. Besides the work of the Committee, much research is undertaken by the Agricultural Research Council, by the Ministry and by many commercial firms. Is the Minister satisfied that there is effective coordination and little duplication?

It is usual to inquire how far the results of research are being effectively disseminated and put into practice. Here we have the advantage that this Committee has the twofold responsibilities, of research and education. No one can say that the British Sugar Corporation has not publicised the results of its research and made effective recommendations. In addition to the Sugar Beet Review, there are always the great spring sowing and autumn harvest demonstrations, in which all of the new techniques and machinery and other sugar beet equipment can be seen at work in the fields and a crop can be judged at its sowing and harvesting.

I believe, but I would like this confirmed, that part of the future development plan of the Committee is to have more development offices. What relationship is there between this Committee and the Ministry's educational efforts and the National Agricultural Advisory Service? Is that relationship satisfactory? It is important that the Minister and the Sugar Corporation should be satisfied that all of this advice emanating from the Committee is being acted upon, widely enough and quickly enough. Naturally, one wonders how our research progress compares with that of sugar beet growers in other countries, in America and Europe.

Can the Minister give us some information on this, because in the 1966 programme there is provision made for £800 subscription and £900 to cover visits to the International Institute of Sugar Beet Research? Presumably members learned about researches and prices in the European Economic Community? I understand that French producers have a roughly comparable price at the moment, but from 1st July, 1968, their target prices will become about one-third higher than our existing guarantee prices.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I doubt whether this is a matter for this research.

Mr. Hill

With respect Mr. Speaker, I was wondering what effect on the activities of this Committee any possible entry into the European Community might have. I assume and hope that these activities could go on unchecked. The research effort and the levies might have to be pooled and equalised, but meanwhile we can say that we are well enough satisfied with the results of this Committee. It has given to the industry much by its programmes, which incidentally are not all that insular.

Foreign countries have learned a great deal from us. There are still many problems to which farmers as contributors are anxious to have the answers. Farmers always want value for any levies paid. At the 4d. rate, on an average crop of 15 ton, it would mean a contribution by a farmer of 5s. per acre of sugar beet. It is not an extra 1d. here which concerns the farmer, but rather the fact that the squeeze on producers has gone very far, and they would be much more interested in a better guaranteed price in another place in negotiations now pending.

10.45 a.m.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) paid tribute to Sir Peter Greenwell, the Chairman of the Research and Education Committee, and I would like to add to that, as I have had the pleasure of serving on the Committee with him. I would also like to pay tribute to the work of Sir David Erskine, who is the Chairman of the Scottish Sub-Committee, and who sits on the main Committee and, therefore, has to do a double stint. Also, to the scientific staff of the East of Scotland College of Agriculture, the Meteorological Office and to the Macaulay Institute, in Aberdeen, for the work that it does for the Committee.

In Scotland, the need for the activities of this Committee is perhaps three times as much as the need in England, because our sugar-beet factory is working at something like half of its potential capacity. This is a very urgent matter for us and the Committee should do all that it can to help the Scottish industry to reach a viable level of production and enable our factory to keep going. Was the 50–50 break-up between the B.S.C. and the farmers a necessity for all time? Is it sacrosanct and is it a right plan?

Some aspects of research have taken a good deal of time and money over the last few years, particularly the bringing in of the cleaner loaders to cut down the amount of dirt entering the sugar factory. A great deal of the capital investment to achieve this has to come from the farmers who already pay 50 per cent. of the cost of research. The person who gains from the cutting down of the amount of soil entering the factory is the Sugar Corporation and there are certain aspects of sugar beet research which could quite rightly be paid for by a bigger percentage from the Sugar Corporation and a correspondingly smaller one from the growers, because it is demonstrable that the Corporation is obtaining the greater benefit from research and education programmes. I hope that the Minister can tell us something about this.

We are particularly interested, because we grow our beet further north and in the words of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), spring comes late in Scotland. We suffer from more difficult conditions than our friends in the Eastern Counties, but we have to receive the same price at the end of the day. We are very interested in developments talked about last year in Japan, where there was the possibility of producing beet in small paper receptacles, which could be germinated and then transplanted. One of the main difficulties of sugar beet growing in Scotland is that if there is a period of wet weather during April, and one is unable to get one's beet planted by 15th April, for every week that one drills after that date there is almost certain to be a considerably reduced tonnage of beet.

We have seen what happens to so many growers in Scotland who have found the crop entirely uneconomic and have given it up. The Research and Education Committee could help by developing a means of transplanting beet. For example, there is the problem of expense in weed control. With modern herbicides, spraying either before or after emergence, it is possible to cut down the amount of weed growth, but this is an expensive way of doing it. If one could, by previous cultivations, kill the previous growth of weed and then transplant, there would be great economies to the grower.

One welcomes the demonstration work which has been extended in Scotland by the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee. By having the chance to see trial plots of a sufficient scale to present conditions comparable with those encountered on the ordinary farm, sugar beet growers can see the money being spent, as it were, and they can see how the same methods can be applied to their own use.

Last year, we had a very good demonstration in my constituency on the Falkland Wood Farm. It was visited by many growers. This is one of the ways in which the money coming from the levy is spent. It is necessary, of course, to take ground and to compensate the farmer if the resulting crop is a failure by reason of the particular experiment not being successful.

I take it from what the Parliamentary Secretary said about the amount of money expected to be spent during the ensuing year that, although the Order calls for an increase of 1d., the programme can be achieved with an increase for the growers of only ½d. In the present economic climate, unless, as one hopes, there is to be a considerable increase in the guaranteed price for sugar beet, the ½d. is all that ought to be added, at least in the foreseeable future, and still enable the committee to carry on its valuable work.

The side-effects of some of the research can at times be unfortunate. We had one such experience in Scotland. Because of our northern climate, we do not suffer from the incidence of virus yellows to the extent experienced by the grower in England. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. B. Hill) referred to the last bad attack of virus yellows. When this took place, we in Scotland, because we escaped it, appeared to have a much better result as compared with England, and, therefore, the preferential treatment which we used to have by way of price for beet growing was taken from us.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resist the temptation to talk about the Price Review.

Sir J. Gilmour

With respect, Sir, it was the effects of research in England which led people to believe that sugar beet growing in Scotland could be as profitable as it was in England, and this had the result of altering the price of sugar beet to us. This was a way in which research did harm rather than good to growers in Scotland in their financial returns.

We do not begrudge the work done to prevent virus yellows in Norfolk and the south of England. Indeed, we welcome it. Sugar beet growers stand together and wish to see everyone having profitable results. But it did happen to work against our interest. I hope that the Minister is aware of this point and will take it into account when he is sitting somewhere else and doing something else. I promise, Mr. Speaker, that I shall not go into that aspect of the matter further.

In the interests of sugar beet growing in Scotland, everything must be done to ensure that, although our factory is working at only half capacity, the amount of research and education which goes into making certain that we get it back to full capacity again is maintained and the money for that purpose is in no way reduced. We need the money more than any other part of the industry, and I hope that the research programme will be directed to that end.

10.55 a.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) in his reference to virus yellows. Two facts are apparent as one looks at the floral decoration in the Parliamentary Secretary's lapel. One is that it was never grown in Wales. The other is that, as one looks at his flower and the many others we have seen, one can be forgiven for thinking that they are all made of plastic. I say that just en passant, and I come now to the Order.

The Order increases by 1d. the joint contribution which growers and processors will make to this worthy fund. No one—certainly no one on these benches—fails to appreciate that the money going into the fund goes to an excellent purpose. It is being well used and is meeting many urgent requirements in research and education in all the complicated aspects of sugar beet growing. However, although I am by no means opposed to adequate finance for the scheme, I must ask why it is necessary for an extra 1d. to be put on each ton at this time.

Farmers are having a difficult enough time now without being required to pay an additional 1d. levy on sugar beet. What happened to the £40,000 excess of income over expenditure which the fund enjoyed last year? If the levy of 3d. a ton produced an excess of income over expenditure of £40,000, why is it necessary to put an additional £50,000 into the scheme this year by pushing another 1d. a ton on the levy?

Mr. Webster

This is an important point. On the last occasion when accounts were given to the House, there was a surplus of £40,000. It is estimated that the present proposed increase will produce another £50,000, making £90,000 in all. We find from the balance sheet that most of the excess was used as a subsidy for local authority borrowing. This is a serious matter, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it.

Mr. Farr

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. The question must be looked at. It is no good the Parliamentary Secretary saying that he does not know and he will deal with it later. We must have a full explanation.

By what right was a fund of this kind in credit to the tune of over £40,000 last year, and by what right was the excess, which had been taken 1d. by 1d. from sugar beet growers, put into some local authority fund? On whose authority was it done? If a large excess of income over expenditure was received by the fund last year, why is it necessary now to have another £50,000?

The Parliamentary Secretary is a sound and reliable man in his way, as we know from experience, and he will probably offer a sound explanation. We shall certainly demand that he satisfies the House. But there is another way of bringing in the extra moneys which, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman will say that it is essential that the project should have. It may be thought not practicable, but it is a simple way. Everyone with experience of farming knows that, if the levy cannot be increased, one can increase production. In future years, after the three-year period has elapsed, one way of doing it would be by an expansion of home production.

This could, possibly, be achieved and, with the necessary expansion—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We can discuss only what is in the Order.

Mr. Farr

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I am trying to point out that there is an alternative method for raising the money.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With equally great respect, I understood what the hon. Gentleman was trying to point out, and it was out of order.

Mr. Farr

I quite understand, Mr. Speaker, and, in deference to your Ruling, I shall not pursue the point.

I content myself with saying that, although in general I support a levy, I think it possible that in future years another way to achieve the same worthy end could be taken.

I now come to a point on which I feel adamant. I want to lodge a most strong and vociferous objection to discussing agricultural, horticultural, forestry, or any other such Orders in the mornings. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is bad enough to come in on Wednesday morning to discuss them, but what I am trying to put to the Parliamentary Secretary and to the House is that if we are to have these Orders on Monday morning, many of them will go by default simply because quite a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House are unable to be present.

The Parliamentary Secretary's colleague on the Front Bench has substantial agricultural interests himself and he will tell the hon. Gentleman that often his weekends commence on Friday afternoon, either at home or in his constituency, and they terminate on Monday afternoon. Interspersed with occasional constituency engagements, many hon. Members on both sides of the House have to apply their minds very fully to agricultural, horticultural and forestry topics, and it really is most inconvenient, if not impossible, for them to be present at Westminster on a Monday morning to discuss this sort of thing.

I see from the appreciative smile on the face of the hon. Gentleman that he is grateful that the point has been made. He is a sensible and sound man, and I am quite sure that he will back us in this suggestion, and that possibly he will have a word with the Leader of the House or get his right hon. Friend to do so.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. He must now come back to Wednesday morning.

Mr. Farr

I quite appreciate that, Mr. Speaker. I hope you will forgive me for making these points. Perhaps I do elaborate on them, but I feel that it is necessary at times to do so. I will, of course, press on.

My one criticism of the Order is that considerable excess income over expenditure was achieved last year, and I am disappointed to think that the grower has to pay yet another penny per ton this year. My second general remark is one of deep opposition to discussing any rural order in the morning, and for that reason alone I shall most definitely oppose the passing of this Order today.

11.3 a.m.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

I should like to know what has been done under Section 18 of the Sugar Act, 1956, particularly regarding the progress towards the treatment of virus yellow. I am wondering whether this will involve considerable additional expenditure next year.

The point about it being aphid-borne was made very ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill). The development of an early warning system is very important, and I pay tribute to the work done at Rothamsted. Being a Scot myself, from not the "dead beat" area but the sugar beet area of Scotland, I am very interested in the subject. I am particularly interested in the problem of single germination of sugar beet and developments in this respect. As we know, the labour intensive nature of hoeing out and thinning out is extremely difficult, and anything that can be done to solve the problem will be valuable.

My hon. Friend talked about developments in nuclear research and I am wondering whether the Parliamentary Secretary is able to tell me whether he has contact with the Sieberdorff Research Unit in Vienna, where there has been considerable development on juice preservation and other matters useful for sugar beet extracts. I should like to know what type of co-operation we are receiving from the Viennese authorities at Sieberdorff. I notice from the 1964–65 accounts, published under Section 18 of the Act, there has been a visit to the Institut International de Recherches Betteravières, where subscriptions and expenses of visits amounted to £1,719. This seems to be a regular practice. It would be a good thing if communications were established with Sieberdorff. With the increase in revenue requested this year we should try to develop a new type of beetroot producing a daffodil for Scotsmen. I have seen a number of hon. Members, particularly Liberal Members, wearing what is to me an alien flower, and I am glad to see that the deputy Chief Whip is not wearing one.

As my hon. Friend so rightly said, this should have been referred to the National Board for Prices and Incomes because under Section 18(16) of the Sugar Act, 1956, the Minister is the person responsible for publishing accounts that are presented to the House. They are presented in November of each year, and I was a little surprised to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that the main reason for the increase in revenue, an increase of 1d. on the levy—a very considerable increase of 33⅓ per cent.—was that there was a shortfall of £28,000 in last year's accounts. There was expenditure of £166,000, and income of £142,000.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Saffron Walden)

With great respect, what the Parliamentary Secretary was talking about was next year. He has given us no figures for last year.

Mr. Webster

Would the Parliamentary Secretary clarify that point?

Mr. Hoy

I thought I had made that perfectly clear. I was dealing with the year ahead.

Mr. Webster

I am exceedingly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, who comes from the valley of the blue men, not the valley of the blue beetroot—the Saffronman.

It is necessary that we should know how these figures are arrived at. We are within one month of the end of the financial year for which these accounts should be presented, and we have not had an estimate from the Parliamentary Secretary. This means that we are getting an increase in revenue a year in advance of requirements at a time of the income freeze. It seems the old story—and this is the Minister's responsibility—when the Government say that anybody who puts up prices, rates or levies, is being disloyal to his country; and yet, because there is an estimated shortfall of £28,000 in 13 months' time, the Government are to have authority to increase the levy now.

I should like to refer the Parliamentary Secretary to the previous year, the year ending 31st March, 1965, when there was a surplus in favour of the Sugar Beet Research and Education Fund of £41,125. I should like to know how much accumulated surplus there has been over the years. It is exceedingly important that farmers should know about this increase in their costs and the increase in the costs of the British Sugar Corporation because in 1965 they contributed £77,729, an increase of 20 per cent. We should like to know what the contribution is estimated to be last year.

What was done with those assets? In the year ended 31st March, 1965 "cash at Paymaster-General" stood at £23,000. It was then taken away from the Paymaster-General. It used to be £54,000. I am not surprised that the Minister of Agriculture should wish to take £20,000 away from the Paymaster-General. I think that is excellent and very reasonable. It makes one wonder what his functions are. A figure of £20,000 was taken away from him, but £65,000 was in local authority loans including accrued interest. This seems to be exceedingly important.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

I think that my hon. Friend has made a slip of the tongue. He said that £20,000 had been taken away from the Paymaster-General. If he looks again, he will find that it is £30,000.

Mr. Webster

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I would almost dub him senior wrangler. He has put my faulty figures right. He has reinforced my point. I know that he will develop the point, because he is expert on the Paymaster-General and the finances at his disposal.

What worries me is that from this increase going into the fund there has been new investment in a local authority loan of £65,000. If there is to be a surplus of £50,000 in the next financial year as a result of the increase in revenue, and if this is simply to be invested in local authority loans, the unfortunate producer and the Corporation will be subsidising local authority borrowing. The House will need to examine this aspect thoroughly before approving the Order.

I hope that we shall have a reply from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I have asked him why there was a surplus last year and why nothing was done to reduce the income of the fund. Now that there is an estimate of an increased deficit in 13 months' time, the Government require increased powers to raise finances for the fund now. Beetroot growers and the Corporation will regard this as an excessive increase in their costs to the extent of 33⅓ per cent. at a time when the Government are asking everybody to act with restraint.

This is the Minister's responsibility. I exonerate the Committee from responsibility. This great increase which is now to be levied quickly will have to be done on a gradual basis. I hope that it will not even be necessary to increase the levy by ½d. at present. As we have not yet got an estimate of the accounts for this year, it is less than justice to producers and to the House that the Order should go through without a great deal of scrutiny.

11.12 a.m.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

I am glad to be able to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), because on one tack he was not quite right. He said that the figures which we have been able to get from the Vote Office are last year's figures. They are the figures for the year before that.

Mr. Webster

I was merely saying that they are the latest figures available to the House. This is a delay which makes the whole situation much more aggravated.

Mr. Jopling

Indeed. It is intolerable that we should be asked to debate the Order this morning, since we only have figures which are nearly two years out of date. The figures for the year ended 31st March, 1966, should have been available to us by now. The Minister must explain why he invites us to approve the Order when we have not got figures for the year which ended 10 months ago. Those figures should have been available to us. We should also have had from the Committee an estimate of what the position will be in 1966–67.

I come now to why it is essential that we press on as fast as possible with research and education into the sugar beet crop. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) gave us a clear, comprehensive, concise and understanding account of the need for research. He made his speech from the point of view of the Eastern Counties, which is a predominantly arable area. I want to paint the position that sugar beet holds in the more predominantly mixed farming areas in the north of England where I come from. I must declare an interest, because I have been a sugar beet grower for 12 years.

In my area sugar beet serves rather different purposes. It has certain other disadvantages and problems for farmers. As to its advantages, it is a most valuable crop as a rotation break. It is a high gross cash return crop, which it is important to have in the highly mechanised arable and mixed farming in this country. It plays an important part, particularly in the north of England, in the residues—the tops—which provide an important part of the lowland sheep management system, in the winter fattening of sheep. These are the advantages.

The crop has disadvantages. The principal one is the conflict which growing it has with the management of other crops and other enterprises on an arable, and particularly on a mixed, farm. I am thinking in particular of the conflict that there is on a mixed farm in May and June at the time of singling and hoeing, which is so labour demanding and the timing of which is so critical. Very often it is necessary to devote all one's resources and efforts to cleaning, hoeing and singling the beet. This is often done at the expense of silage making, and sometimes at the expense of hay making. This aspect is particularly important in view of the swing there has been to silage. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary must be aware of this problem, because it is one which many commercial firms—for instance I.C.I.—are well aware of. Much better silage could be made if it were possible to cut out the great labour demands of sugar beet growing in the spring.

Often the crop conflicts in the autumn with the lifting of potatoes on arable farms. Because the Corporation is anxious to get beet moving into the factories early in the season, it also often conflicts with wheat sowing. All this must be considered against the general trend of the smaller pool of labour being available to handle the crop and hoe it.

It is, therefore, essential that there should be more research and education into the new techniques of beet growing. From the educational point of view, the spring demonstrations are of the greatest possible value. Three or four years ago there was a demonstration in Yorkshire close to my own farm. That very comprehensive and well-managed demonstration had a dramatic effect on farmers. In the markets farmers talked in terms of new techniques and new methods of growing beet which they had not talked about before they attended the demonstration. I know of many farmers who remarked on the extraordinary change that took place after just one day's visit to the demonstration.

It is important that research should be improved and more techniques made available. There should be better ways of mechanising and controlling techniques, particularly weed eradication. My sugar beet fieldsman said to me only within the last fortnight that he thought that the day was rapidly approaching when it would be possible to sow the crop and just close the gate on it and virtually let it grow. This was rather an exaggeration, but it painted the direction in which present research on beet growing can lead us. Especially with the use of monogerm seeds, the hoeing and singling can be largely eradicated. The new machines can be used—the precision drills, the band sprayers and the methods of controlling insects, particularly aphis. New chemical methods of controlling weeds have become available to us. It is important to get on with this. Many farmers are thinking of getting out of sugar beet, particularly in the north of England. Speaking for myself, I can say that I have considered very seriously whether I should grow it this year. At one stage, I decided that I would not, but I have changed my mind again since.

Mr. W. H. Loveys (Chichester)

Is my hon. Friend aware that this is a problem which is not confined to the north of England and that sugar beet growing is being reduced all over the country, with the exception of East Anglia, where all the beet factories are centred? It is a definite problem, which has resulted in a reduction in acreage everywhere except in East Anglia.

Mr. Jopling

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I had not realised that the trend was working in the same direction in Sussex. There is no arable crop where there is a greater pressure for research and new techniques than sugar beet, and it is important that all the work which is being done is continued and expanded.

I was disappointed when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that no research developments are planned in the immediate future. It is a pity that the work is not expanding. If we are not careful, we shall find that the sugar beet crop will be reduced radically in the next few years. As I have said, I know quite a number of growers in the north of England who have gone out this year and say they do not intend to grow sugar beet any more. It is a great pity.

Finally, I want to turn to a point which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), and that is the matter of having debates on Orders of this sort in the mornings. Wednesday mornings are not so bad, but it will not be long before the Leader of the House comes shambling in to tell us that he is proposing that agricultural Orders should be debated on Monday mornings.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is this directly in order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

I was waiting to see how far the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) was proceeding to go. It is in order to make some incidental reference to the fact that this is a Wednesday morning. But it is not in order on this Sugar Beet Order to discuss in general the advantages or disadvantages of morning sittings.

Mr. Jopling

Mr. Deputy Speaker, what I wanted to do was to support what was said, when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough. As he said, hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies find it very hard to come to the House in the mornings, particularly at the beginning of the week. It is much more difficult for such an hon. Member to get to the House than it is for an hon. Member from Glasgow, who has only to go out of his house and take the bus to the airport to be at Heathrow in an hour. That is not possible for the vast majority of hon. Members from agricultural constituencies.

Again, those of us who specialise in agricultural matters find it particularly helpful to keep in touch with the Ministry, which is a very complex one, and it is essential that we try to go to the markets and talk to farmers. Quite often we do that on Monday mornings, before coming to the House, and there we find out what is going on in the context of the agricultural marketing system.

I resent the fact that we are debating this Order this morning—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not pursue this any further.

Mr. Jopling

Very well, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Then I conclude by saying that on this point of principle we ought to be prepared to divide the House when the time comes.

11.25 a.m.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

Coming from the county of Norfolk and representing a constituency which is greatly involved in sugar beet growing, I am very interested in the research programme which has aided sugar beet growing tremendously over the years.

The first factory for sugar beet was in Norfolk, and close to my home in my constituency, I have a factory at Wissington, which I went round during the last recess.

Norfolk has produced many pioneers in farming. "Turnip" Townsend first introduced the growing of row crops, from which the technique of sugar beet growing has evolved. A short list of famous Norfolk agriculturists would not be com- plete without mention of Sir Edmund Bacon, the Chairman of the Sugar Beet Corporation. His inspiration and leadership of the whole of this great industry is a real example to many other industries throughout the land. I can say from personal knowledge that he knows the vast majority of research workers, men employed in the factories, fieldsmen and others. Everywhere I go among sugar beet growers, factory workers and others, there is the greatest admiration for the work which he has done to make the industry a very happy one in terms of its relationships.

Before I turn to the Order, I should like just briefly to mention the matter which has been referred to before, and that is the inconvenience of taking agricultural business in the mornings—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We really cannot have any more speeches on that subject. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to come to his observations on the Order.

Mr. Hawkins

I intended merely to draw attention to the fact that demonstrations of sugar beet growing which Members of Parliament like to see are not held in the later hours of the day, which is the only time that we can see them.

Turning to the Order, it asks for another cost increase of 33⅓ per cent. I agree that sugar beet is a vital crop, particularly to the arable lands in East Anglia. It enables the land to have a proper rotation, though I must say with increasing difficulty. One of the most important features of a sugar beet crop is that it enables one to get away from corn growing, and it results in the land being kept in good heart.

I must add my warning to the Minister that, even in East Anglia, due to increasing costs and the decreased price per ton over the last few years, quite a number of people have gone out of sugar beet growing. On the lighter lands, it returns only two halfpennies for a penny. Aided by research, the growers have done a wonderful job. They have raised the production per acre from eight tons in 1936 to 13½ tons in 1959, which is the last year for which figures are given in the Sugar Beet Corporation's booklet. More has been grown since. Nevertheless, research is vital, and it needs to be bent particularly towards reducing costs and increasing the sugar content. As the Minister will know, although the tonnage per acre has gone up, the sugar content per ton has gone down a little since the 'thirties. It has not shown any increase over the last ten or fifteen years, on average.

It is vital that we try to increase the sugar content as well as the tonnage per acre. It saves handling costs on the farm, and, in the factory, it saves costs of pulping and extraction of the sugar from the beet. That is a most important feature to which I hope the research section of the sugar beet industry is paying great attention. There are certain diseases on which research should be pressed forward more thoroughly, and I wish to draw attention to some matters on which I believe research should be concentrated.

First, it is essential that as soon as possible we have monogerm seed with as reliable germination, as high a sugar content and as high a tonnage per acre as the multigerm seed. The germination, sugar content and tonnage are not so good as the multigerm seed, yet if we could get as good a monogerm seed we could cut down costs on chopping out and singling, and the many other costs incurred during the spring rush.

Secondly, there must be urgent research into a cure for Docking disorder, which is prevalent on our lightest lands in East Anglia. It has spread from the constituency of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), and I am very surprised not to see him in his seat because there is a large amount of—

Mr. Webster

Would my hon. Friend suggest that he is probably going to a demonstration on a Wednesday morning?

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) is another Member who is on a Standing Committee dealing with an agricultural subject, and he is probably in the same difficulty about morning sittings.

Hon. Members


Mr. Hawkins

I merely said that I was surprised to see that he was not here. I would have thought that if my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) could be here he would probably have been here as well. This area of North Norfolk is an important sugar-beet growing area, and since the crop uses a large amount of labour, I would have thought that he, as president of the N.U.A.W., would have wanted to take part in our debate.

The Docking disorder, which started in North Norfolk around the town of Docking, has spread further south into the lighter lands in my constituency and into Suffolk. The disorder or disease, has been known for many years. About 10 years ago I was the arbitrator in an arbitration when the present Lord Chancellor was on one side and the late Sir Geoffrey Lawrence was on the other. All the argument was on the question of what caused Docking disorder.

I believe that many people on our lightest lands in the brecklands of Norfolk will shortly have to go out of sugar beet production unless that disorder or disease can be conquered. Some of my friends have already stopped growing sugar beet.

Near my home, and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) is an area of light black land. The greatest trouble with that land is that soon after the sowing of the sugar beet it can be affected very badly with "blow" in March and April. The whole topsoil can blow away, taking with it the seed and the artificial manure, and can fill all the dykes.

The late Alderman Rickwood gave a farm to the nation for research a few years ago, and I hope that whoever winds up the debate will tell us of some of the experiments on that farm concerned with sugar beet growing. At the bottom of the gift of the land was an attempt to reduce the great losses in sugar beet and other root crops by finding some way of stabilising the land.

There is a great deal more to be done in research. I take off my hat to the Research Committee. I know Sir Peter Greenwell well and nobody could be a more able leader on that side than he is. The three matters to which I have referred are very important. They are monogerm seed of high quality and high yield with increased sugar content in the root; research into the Docking disorder; and research into preventing the black land of the fens from blowing. If we can overcome those difficulties I feel sure that the farmers in my area will support an increase in the levy.

11.36 a.m.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Saffron Walden)

I am glad to have the opportunity to say something on the Order, not only as representative of an intensive sugar beet growing area, which has one of the largest sugar beet factories in the country, at Felsted, but as a consumer not merely of sugar but of sugar beet pulp for calf rearing. I therefore have a considerable interest in seeing that the industry flourishes. Clearly, the increased research forecast by the Order is important to the industry.

My hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill), have gone into the work done by the various establishments in some detail. I have no doubt that that work, particularly the work at Cambridge, is very highly valued by sugar beet producers and manufacturers in that area. I was a little alarmed to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) suggest that the proportion of contributions might be varied because the factories gain more than the producers. That may be so in Fife, but it is certainly not so in East Anglia.

My hon. Friend gave the example of cleaning. If we would care to stand outside the main entrance of the factory at Felsted and see the amount of muck being washed off the sugar beet, he would realise that we are still a long way from getting the proper development in that connection that we should have. Many of our local farmers work on heavy clay soil and it is almost impossible to get proper cleaning without the use of the high-pressure jets at the factory.

I want to concentrate on the financial aspect. I am certain that neither the producer nor the manufacturer will have any objection to paying the increased levy, even at a time of severe restraint, provided they are certain that it is needed. We therefore need more information from the Minister than we have had. The only figures he gave were the estimated cost for next year, £166,000, and the estimated income on a 3d. levy of £142,000, a short-fall of £24,000 next year. That is a remarkable decline in the amount of contributions. The product of the levy for the year ending March, 1965 was £155,458. Crop yields have presumably been going up since then, and I had not heard that acreage had declined to such an extent, although I know that people are getting out of sugar beet production. How is it then that we find ourselves faced with a reduction of £13,000 in the product of the levy in two years? It is important that we should know how that has come about.

What worries me much more is that we have not got the figures for the intervening period. We have the figures up to the end of March, 1965—though the Parliamentary Secretary seemed rather surprised to hear them, when my hon. Friend produced them. He knew that there was surplus, but was apparently not certain what had happened to it. We now know that it has gone into local authority grants and the Post Office Savings Bank.

We have no figures yet for 1965–66, and it is high time we had. This is not a very big account—the total overall sum is under £100,000—and in a period of eleven months it should be possible to produce final figures. It should even be possible to produce estimated figures of outturn for this year, though I agree that that would be more difficult. With these figures to hand we could have a clear idea of whether or not an increase in the fund of £50,000 is justified. As I have said, I represent both producers and manufacturers, who are the people who will have to pay—not us, the general taxpayers. It will mean an increase in costs, and life is not easy in the sugar beet world at present.

I hope very much that the Parliamentary Secretary has now had time to get for us at least the 1965–66 figures, so that we can have a fairly clear idea of what the outturn was for that year, and whether the decline in the contributions had started in that year. If the hon. Gentleman looks again at the figures for 1964–65 he will see that there was an increase in the contribution from levy in that year of £24,000, and one therefore needs to be told why this decline is apparently to take place. If we could have that information, I should have though it reasonable, provided one is satisfied that the money was really needed, to pass the Order. Without that information, I should have thought it very difficult for any responsible House of Commons, in the present economic climate, to allow this Order to go through unquestioned.

11.42 a.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary for the fact that owing to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances I was not able to be present to hear his speech, but I have since heard the majority of the other speeches in this debate.

I find it very difficult to discover what we are spending on the highly laudable purpose mentioned in the Explanatory Memorandum, which is said to be for … defraying the expenditure of programmes in Great Britain for carrying out research and education in sugar beet growing. I have been looking at the latest agricultural statistics available in the research department of the Library and find that the latest figures we have are for 1962–63. It is shown there that the sugar-beet acreage for the country was 406,000 acres, with an overall yield of 12.7 tons per acre, producing a total yield of 5,146,000 tons. We gather that the amount collected in 1965 on the basis of a 3d. charge was £155,458. My calculations show that on that basis the 1962–63 figures ought to have produced a sum of about £129,000. It therefore appears to have gone up between 1962–63 and 1964.

If, on a 3d. levy, £129,482 was produced in 1962–63 by the growers and the Corporation together, a 4d. levy ought to produce £171,976. Obviously, it is very difficult to play arithmetic in the middle of a debate, but I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us the latest figures on which the Order is based, and what, on those figures, would have been the product of a 3d. levy and what would have been the product of a 4d. levy in the latest year available.

I have been studying, as I do each year, the Report of the Agricultural Research Council. The latest Report is shown as having been ordered to be printed on 9th August last year, and it is for the year 1965–66. In page 56, one sees that among the outside bodies giving financial assistance to the Agricultural Research Council in its very important work is the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee which provided grants totalling £96,385 … towards capital and recurrent costs of research into the breeding, physiology, and processing of sugar beet at the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering, the Plant Breeding Institute, and the Rothamsted Experimental Station. I should like to know the source of this fund. I take it to be completely separate from the contribution made by the British Sugar Corporation under this Order; in other words that we can say that in that case we may now be pouring into sugar beet research something in excess of £200,000 a year—

Mr. Kirk

If my hon. Friend will allow me, it is quite clear from these accounts that the figure is this fund.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will either confirm or deny that that is correct.

I cannot help feeling that there is not enough awareness of the fact that the agricultural industry as a whole falls well within the category of the science-based industry. All too often we talk of the science-based industries as though they had to do only with electronics and the more sophisticated modern technology, but agriculture has a magnificent record, and I do not think that any good agriculturist will ever begrudge making a reasonable contribution towards research in the industry.

This debate has obviously disclosed a rather uncertain position. Exactly what has happened to the carry-over from previous years? What have the funds been used for in the past? It was very disconcerting to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) suggesting that some of the money has been used to help local authorities—

Mr. Hoyindicated dissent.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary shaking his head, because that is a very grave charge to have been made. I hope that we shall have it cleared up, because I can think of nothing more likely to undermine the confidence of those in agriculture who are research-minded than the thought that their contributions are being misused for other purposes.

The Report of the Agricultural Research Council confirms my assertion about the industry's approach to scientific research. I notice in page 3 that reference is made to … yellows virus of sugar beet, the control of which has probably given the growers an increased yield to the value of some £500,000 a year since 1959; and beet eelworm which, although devastating in some countries, is unimportant to the United Kingdom because the rotation of crops prescribed by research prevents the pest from reaching damaging proportions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) made very clear, those are two troubles that have beset the fens in past years, and I agree that money is well spent that is spent on solving them. Growers of sugar beet in my constituency have never been reluctant to take a constructive approach to the matter.

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West said about the involuntary export of topsoil carried downwind from my constituency into his, and I know that in giving this farm to the nation the late Alderman Rickwood had very much in mind the idea of seeking some way of overcoming this appalling tendency of fen soil to "blow"—perhaps over-granulated by excessive use of artificial fertilisers—by being carried up into the sky and deposited in other counties. Strangely enough, it has affected sugar beet more than any other crop. The wind often coincides with the drilling period and, as the seeds start to germinate, up goes the lot and redrilling must take place.

This is a thoroughly uneconomic necessity and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will reassure us that all of this money is being properly used, that none of it has been unnecessarily withheld, and that none of it has been used for any purpose other than for scientific research.

11.50 a.m.

Mr. H. W. Loveys (Chichester)

I strongly support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) about the need for those who pay the levy to know exactly how their money is being spent. I declare my interest in this matter in that I am a sugar beet grower and I also declare the fact that, until now, I had no idea that this money was being used for anything other than research.

I, too, apologise to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for not being in the Chamber throughout this discussion. Like other hon. Members, I am a member of a Standing Committee which is sitting upstairs and throughout the morning I have been trying to divide myself, as it were, between these two commitments. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) is in his place on the Opposition Front Bench in the House, but he is also supposed to be in the Committee upstairs.

Meanwhile, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) has decided to remain in the Committee Room, although he has a passionate interest in the matter being discussed on the Floor of the House. This state of affairs makes nonsense of our procedure. I am finding myself having to rush from one place to the other, so much so that I did not prepare any notes for this speech because I thought that I would be kept in the Standing Committee.

I am anxious to take part in this discussion because, like many of my hon. Friends, I support and welcome the Order. I understand that it amounts to about 5s. per acre for growers who will pay the levy. This does not seem an excessive amount and I agree that we are getting good value for money. It must be realised, however, that it is because of the work of the Research Committee that the Government have been able to keep down the guaranteed price to the grower. The Parliamentary Secretary cannot pretend that the grower has benefited to the extent of increased profitability. The Minister has not been handing out largesse in any way. He has merely been able to make use of the research that has been going on into this matter, bringing with it increased yields which, in turn, have helped to cover the greatly increased expenses of growing sugar beet.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) raised the important question of the sugar con- tent of beet. What proportion of the research being done is into the importance of increasing the sugar content of beet as opposed to the tonnage output? To what extent does natural sunshine increase the sugar content; or is it increased by fertiliser treatment, methods of cultivation or in some other way? I am sure that my fellow growers will agree that it is all important to increase the sugar content of the beet as distinct from increasing the yield generally. After all, the price of sugar beet is based on the percentage of sugar content, and the more knowledge that growers can have about this aspect the better.

The greatest success story of the Research Committee has been the way in which yellows virus has, to a large extent, been conquered. The early warning system has been of great help because growers know when the virus is in their district and have been able to apply the necessary pesticide to prevent the virus from infecting their crop. We must do everything we can to get genetic monogerm seed on to a proper basis so that we can do more than just grow it experimentally, which, I understand, is the present position. If this seed were more widespread much of the spring work could be reduced.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will comment on the future intentions of the Government about the growing of sugar beet in this country, because this is tied up with the question of research and the fact that a great reduction in sugar beet growing has been taking place virtually throughout the country, with the exception of East Anglia. I support and welcome the Order, but regret that this matter is having to be debated this morning, when there is another agricultural Committee in session upstairs.

I support those who have said that that alone is good enough reason to divide the House on this issue.

11.56 a.m.

Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

We have had a useful debate under conditions which have by no means been made easy by the activities of the Government. I do not want to dwell on this matter, except to reiterate the difficulties which have been expressed by my hon. Friends about the conditions under which they have been working—trying to be in two places at once—in an effort to do their duty properly. The best I can find to say about this morning's arrangements, is that it is preferable to the Monday morning sitting for which this business was originally planned.

This has been a useful discussion, because we have been talking about the way in which the results of research are being utilised and about how this research is being financed. Not many people get "hot under the collar" nowadays about an increase of 1d. The reason is probably because one cannot buy very much for 1d. However, when one analyses this increase, it is, relatively speaking, a considerable one. An increase of 33⅓ per cent. at this time must be considered considerable.

We have not been given up-to-date figures and I hope that when the Minister replies he will give a good explanation as to why these figures are not immediately available. We were told that there was a surplus in the previous year of £41,000 and we know that this ld. increase will bring in a further £50,000. The suggestion was made that there had been investments in local authority funds, although I observed that the Parliamentary Secretary reacted sharply against that suggestion. I hope that he will clear up these matters and explain why, if such a surplus existed, it is necessary to call for this extra money. Has there been a steep decline in the acreage of sugar beet being grown and thereby a reduction in the number of tons coming off?

An important matter to bear in mind is the value of the sugar beet crop to the whole agricultural structure. It is dependent, to a great extent, on the research that is done on its behalf. Potentially, it is an enormously valuable crop in Scotland, yet the Cupar factory is running at half-capacity and if this trend were allowed to develop and if production were still further to decline this could have consequences right outside the immediate sphere of agriculture, and the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate my meaning from an employment point of view.

Half the trouble in Scotland is that the yields are comparatively poor. I have the greatest anxiety, as things are going, that one of the very few useful break crops—and this is a problem affecting a great number of agriculturists—might be taken away from Scottish agriculture altogether. The hon. Gentleman gave us the figures and the increases in tonnage over the United Kingdom during a period ranging from 9.2 tons to the present 14 tons an acre. Can he give the corresponding Scottish figures, because they are nothing like that?

The hon. Gentleman mentioned various organisations engaged in sugar beet work —Rothamsted, Sprowston and Nottingham—and it struck me that none of those research stations are situated very far north. Is enough attention being paid to the conditions under which sugar beet is grown in the northern part of the country? Why are the yields lower there? Is it because the varieties grown in the South are not suitable in the North? Is it because we do not have the number of hours of sunshine that generally speaking the South has? Is it because the spacing between the rows and between the plants is wider in the North and one does not get the plant population? The hon. Gentleman says that this is a factor.

From what I remember of seeing deliveries to factories my impression is that the width of spacing and the width of rows is no wider in Scotland than it is in a substantial part of the northern beet growing areas of England, and yet the yields are substantially less further Scotland. A good deal of work needs to be done and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be to the enormous advantage of Scottish agriculture that research of this kind should be carried out with a view to preserving this most valuable crop. If such research is done, I can see the value of the increase in contribution, but my hon. Friends are entirely justified in asking for a very much fuller explanation than we have had about the necessity for this very substantial increase which seems to fly entirely contrary to the general thinking of the Government about increased prices.

12.3 p.m.

Mr. Hoy

May I thank hon. Gentlemen for the part that they have played in this debate, which has been extremely useful. I am not altogether sure that I cared for the contribution from the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), who introduced an argument which I hope I can show is quite unworthy of the occasion. May I thank the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) for his contribution. I will not seek to repeat his learned exposition on the intricacies and scientific problems facing the industry. He is obviously tremendously well-informed and I do not seek to compete with him, nor, I imagine, would anyone else.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare raised the question of balances which were left over. They were for 1964–65 and not for last year. I did not answer off the cuff because frequently organisations—and I am connected with a considerable number of them—have a balance remaining. I wanted to make sure that the balance was not paid back to anyone, but carried forward, and this I can now confirm. In reply to the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), I paid a very fulsome tribute, I thought, to the scientific research which takes place in agriculture which is at least comparable to that in any other industry. I said that before he entered the Chamber, and perhaps I should repeat it so that he may be assured that I had not overlooked it.

Mr. Webster


Mr. Hoy

Will the hon. Gentleman just let me finish what I have to say? Any money which was left over would not subsidise local authorities or go into other public funds, as the hon. Gentleman suggests. Like many organisations, until such time as the money is required it is invested, so that it is interest earning and not lying idle. I hope that with that assurance, the hon. Gentleman will understand what is happening. Not a penny of the money subscribed is spent in any other way than for the purposes for which it is contributed.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

May I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving us that assurance, and may I also say that I fully support a policy which amasses enough money to do a job properly rather than to spend a little goodness and achieve no result.

Mr. Hoy

I will return now—

Mr. Webster


Mr. Hoy

No, I will not give way. I gave way to the hon. Gentleman on two occasions before and I have just started my speech. A great deal of fuss was made about the accounts not being ready. The accounts for 1965–66 were sent to the Comptroller and Auditor General by 30th November, as the 1956 Act requires. I understand that the House will, in the next few days, be asked to order a printing. The procedure has been the same since the fund was begun, and I think that that is an adequate reply to those who talk about delay.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

In this case, when the Government are asking for an increase, would it not have been reasonable to try to expedite the accounts? Have they been held up by the translation of the Comptroller and Auditor General to the post of Ombudsman?

Mr. Hoy

They have not been held up at all. The usual procedure has been followed and we have tried to get them out as quickly as we can. If the hon. Gentleman would like the information, I can give the acreages from 1962–63 to 1965–66. The 1961–62 acreage was approximately 410,000; 1962–63, 409,000; 1963–64, 411,000; 1964–65, 433,000; 1965–66, 438,000.

The income in each of these years was as follows: 1961–62, £148,000; 1962–63, £132,000; 1963–64, £131,000; 1964–65, £155,000; 1965–66, £167,000.

Mr. Kirk

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. This means an even greater decline next year than would have seemed possible from the earlier figures. Is there any explanation?

Mr. Hoy

I am willing to be as helpful as I can, but I can give only an approximate figure. On 5.7 million tons the income would be about £190,000. This is an estimate.

Mr. Kirk

That is on the higher figure.

Mr. Hoy

Yes. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) complained at our discussing agriculture in the morning. I thought that agriculture was practised in the morning. We had two mornings a week on agriculture for nearly a year. The hon. Gentleman then complained that he could not take part in our deliberations. Now that he has been given an oppor- tunity, he says that the Government have no right to discuss this subject in the morning. He must make up his mind.

Mr. Stodart

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary must not run away from the complaint in that way. On those mornings in Standing Committee the House was not sitting. The hon. Gentleman must have noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Loveys) has lost weight recently through going from one place to another.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston-upon-Hull, West)

Is not the trouble now that we are getting so much agriculture that we cannot get any fishing?

Mr. Hoy

Perhaps no one will now object that on this occasion we have taken the chips before the fish.

I want to associate myself with the remarks that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) made about his constituent Sir Edmund Bacon, whom I know personally and fairly well. We are grateful to Sir Edmund. I associate myself also with the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) to those Scottish counterparts who are doing this work.

N.A.A.S. is at present working on the subject of Docking disorder. This has not been overlooked. We, N.A.A.S. and the Corporation work closely together. There is no duplication of effort; or, if there is any, it is small.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South asked how the work was publicised or if it was publicised. Then in a later sentence he said that no one could say that the result of this work had not been publicised. This was an admission that those concerned are doing a good job. There would be no purpose in the work if at the end of the day the results were not publicised so that farmers could know what was being done.

It is true, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) said, that they have difficulties in the North. I interjected in his speech to say that one of the reasons given is the question of plant space. I cannot prove this. This is for the scientists and research workers to study. Various reasons are given—climate, lack of sunshine, spacing, the type of plant. The scientific people have given considerable thought to these matters. I agree that those in the North can still make a contribution. They must, if the factory at Cupar is to play its part.

This is not something which has happened only in the last few years. It has been a recurring thing. It has had its good periods and its bad periods. If the factory could be used to full capacity, it could make a fairly substantial contribution to the economy of the town in which it is situated.

Sir J. Gilmour

It is true that four years ago the Cupar factory was oversubscribed and had to ration the acreage that growers were allowed. The decline has occurred over the last three seasons.

Mr. Hoy

I am not denying that it has had these periods. Special measures have been taken to assist the factory. Immediately those steps were taken, we received applications from parts of the South that they should be treated as fairly and as equitably as were those in the North.

I have been asked why these balances are needed. If it is any consolation to hon. Members, it is not expected that the full 1d. increase will go on this year. It may be ½d. I have expressed a hope. I trust that no one will assert that I have given a firm assurance.

Every year we must carry forward a balance to make advance payments to the research institutes in March, June and October before a penny comes in from the harvest. A balance must be kept in hand. The money usually comes in from the harvest in the period from December to January. Until such time as the money is required it is invested.

Sometimes there appears to be a substantial balance. This is the very purpose for which it is required. If research is to be undertaken, the institutes must know what they are doing and the money must be there, rather than their living simply from hand to mouth. To correct what the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) said, I did not say that there would be no new research work. I said that there would be no major new projects.

We do our best to prevent duplication of research from occurring. N.A.A.S. and A.R.C. are both represented on the Research and Education Committee. This liaison serves to prevent duplication from occurring. N.A.A.S. is undertaking some of the Docking work on its own. There is an active international body concerned with beet sugar research based in Belgium. The United Kingdom is a full participant. We learn and we also contribute. No one is doing more than Britain. Other countries are grateful for the contribution we make.

As the cost of research increases, not only the Government but all the interests concerned agreed that our research work should not be curtailed, but that they should continue making this contribution. It was agreed that this was how the money should be used. This is the sole reason for tabling the Order. Whatever else the objection to the Order is, I am delighted to know that everybody agrees that the Committee and the research people are doing a first-class job. Having looked at it and the work of certain other organisations, I must say that they do the job economically and reasonably, and we ought to be proud of it.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the funds raised from the levy can be used to assist the national farm to which I referred, the farm which the late Alderman Rickwood gave the country?

Mr. Hoy

I shall look into that specific case.

Question put:

Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER'S opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Proceedings stood deferred pursuant to Order (Sittings of the House (Morning Sittings)).